Title: Life Of Crime
Director: Daniel Schechter
Major Players: Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins
Out Of Five: 3
Jackie Brown was the fourth feature film from the then cinematic enfant terrible, Quentin Tarantino. It was based on Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. But some of its characters made their first appearances almost twenty years before in the late 70s, in The Switch. And they’ve finally made their way to the big screen in Daniel Schechter’s Life Of Crime.
Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def) are a couple of chancers down on their luck. They concoct a plan to kidnap Mickey (Jennifer Aniston), the trophy wife of wealthy but shady property developer Frank (Tim Robbins). What they don’t reckon with is that he’s planning to divorce her so, when the ransom call comes in, he’s less than co-operative. And his girlfriend Melanie (Isla Fisher) very much has her own agenda for egging him on …..
A quick word of advice. Make sure you listen carefully to the opening dialogue between the two would-be kidnappers. It makes it a lot easier to follow the first half hour of the film. Once things get going, their preparations for the kidnap are shown in parallel with Mickey’s affluent but tedious life – going to the country club, dealing with the unwanted attentions of her feeble admirer, Marshall (a criminally under-used Will Forte) and having to put up with her husband’s alternating neglect and insults. Money certainly isn’t buying her happiness.
There is, incidentally, a third member of the gang, who’s the proverbial weak link – Richard (Mark Boone Junior), a gun enthusiast, overt racist and neo-Nazi whose house is adorned with Swastikas. Added to that, he’s not very bright – as Ordell says, “he’s so dumb, it’s cute” – and, initially, the duo just uses him to provide their weapons. Then his house is used to imprison Mickey and he starts taking a more active role in the kidnapping. But he’s also decidedly creepy, spying on their hostage through a series of peepholes – even when she’s in the bathroom – and, at one point, attempting rape.
So the kidnappers are bungling to say the least, but the target of their extortion, Frank, isn’t so smart either. The kidnappers don’t have too much trouble finding out his whereabouts, tracking down his mistress and getting the low-down on his dodgy dealings. He panics to start with, until he remembers that the divorce papers are supposed to be delivered while he’s away. And his callous, gold digging girlfriend Melanie (Isla Fisher) soon makes it plain to him that his wife’s death would be a distinct advantage and save him a lot of money.
But as the kidnapping drags on, Mickey proves to be surprisingly resilient, holding her own while a captive and even getting her own back on the creepy Richard in a very painful way. The only trouble is that Aniston also looks immaculate throughout what is supposed to be an ordeal, even though she’s supposed to have been injured in the process. It just doesn’t ring true and ruins her chances of putting in a credible performance. The film’s acting honours belong to Isla Fisher as the deliciously mercenary Melanie. She’s funny and has a heart made of flint – and she’s the subject of the smart – if slightly predictable – twist at the end. This is one film where the women have all the brains.
Life Of Crime is darkly funny – there’s something rather apt about one of the kidnappers wearing a Nixon mask! – and there’s some nice twists in mood, but overall it misses the mark. That’s mainly because it doesn’t have the strongest of stories and the performances are uneven. Fisher aside, they’re mainly fair to middling – even though Hawkes and Bey have the advantage of knowing that their characters would return again, to be played by Robert de Niro and Samuel L Jackson respectively. And some of roles aren’t even especially well drawn – which is where you have to feel sorry for Will Forte in his non-part. His really is superfluous to requirements.
Elmore Leonard was Executive Producer on the film and, appropriately, it’s also dedicated to him. But is the film itself a fitting tribute? There are better ones – and the best is probably Jackie Brown.
Life Of Crime is on release in key cities around the UK.